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The 10-Year View: UK Magazine Sales Hit Another Low

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*ABC* data is out today for UK autumn and winter magazine sales. The industry’s Periodical Publishers’ Association (PPA) optimistically sees “a continuing improvement in the demand” – but our research shows that’s not the whole story

When you crunch latest numbers along with those from the last decade, as I have done, you see that actual sales of the most popular 100 magazines have fallen precipitously. At 48.3 million, 2010 full-year sales were 14.8 million fewer than at their 2001 peak.

Instead of sales, the PPA is focusing on circulation, which actually rose by four percent between July and December compared with the previous year.

Circulation can rise because publishers give away bulk copies, freebies and so on. Some publishers have started packaging a second magazine together with a related title.

That means advertisers are reaching more eyeballs. But it doesn’t mean people are necessarily buying more magazines.

Economist rises

The Economist bucked the trend by growing its half-year UK sales 11 percent to 210,204 over the year.

Speaking with paidContent:UK, UK publisher Yvon Ossman credited growing interest in recent Egypt and Middle East politics: “People are interested in global events and want to try and understand that. The Economist provides thoughtprovking analysis without a sensational point of view. Newspapers compete in that 24-hour news cycle; we don’t.”

Ossman said The Economist‘s free iPad app, which gives a limited number of articles and invites users to become subscribers, has been downloaded over a million times in its first three months. She did not detail how many downloaders have become subscribers.

BBCWW sites

BBC Worldwide turned in higher traffic for ABC… 3.7m uniques (more than doubled), 3.9m uniques, 1.5m unique users 67.5% up).

7 Responses to “The 10-Year View: UK Magazine Sales Hit Another Low”

  1. John A

    For years now publishers have squeezed down distribution costs by giving more and more business to fewer and fewer players (there are now only two wholesalers).They now have a monopoly and as a result of this and low returns the service given to retail outlets has declined rapidly with a consequent lack of availability/display.
    At the same time the process at retail has become more complex and rigid with margins that do not reward the retailer properly for his work.
    Result magazines are being relegated to the back of the shop,shelf space reduced and in the more expensive areas shops closed.More money can be made from such lines as fast food and cards.
    Supermarkets continue with sales because of display payments but the corner shop gets nothing.
    Innovation is out there but is not nurtured by publishers.
    Whilst I accept that this is not the only problem it is certainly part of it.

  2. Absolutely! The traditional role is certainly precarious – the graph above confirms this!, The role should therefore be seen “in evolution”. Many firms now call their Circulation/Subs Marketing Manager the “Audience Development Manager”, instructed to manage content delivery, be it print, digital or face to face, to their community audience – some paid, some free. Properly measured, benchmarked and presented this has great interest to advertising clients – “audience access solutions” is what they are seeking. Traditional media buyers, buying media in “silos”, are evolving to this reality too since their traditional approach is as precarious as that of the publisher.

  3. If the marketers role is to access free channels, then their jobs are precarious. They must, of course, monetise all their activity – they work in a profit centre. If the marketer accompanies the advertisement sales person on a trip to a media buyer, he or she will quickly discover what the media buyer thinks of those free copies. Having done lots of those visits, I can tell you the response is often quite rude and dismissive ..

  4. The note on the Economist says that they have “sales” of 210,204 copies and that they bucked a trend by 11 percent. You should check their Jan-Jun 2010 with the latest to compare to ensure the sales growth percentage is accurate as reported. shows infact 42.8k of these 210k are monitored free – ie the “freebies” that are mentioned above as publishers’ tactics for holding or increasing circ levels.

    Accessing audience via multiple channels, paid and free, is the marketers role now in magazine format print medium. Added to that brand extensions in live or digital channels adds to the brand’s reach which is the offering and key interest to advertisers.

  5. What IS surprising is that all the big magazines now have ‘marketing departments’, who are supposed to actively build subscriptions. Research across 196 titles has found that, of a total of 1.4m new subscriptions acquired in 2008 1.1 million lapsed, leaving just 287,310 net new subscriptions in 2009. As so many new subs come from in-magazine promotions, all they are doing is changing the delivery method from WH Smith to Royal Mail. So no retention, no innovation, no real marketing